Archaeological news about the Archaeology of Early Medieval Europe from the Archaeology in Europe web site

Monday, 7 May 2018

Beowulf: The enduring appeal of an Anglo-Saxon 'superhero story'

Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language

As the cold sting of winter finally starts to fade, so the literary festival season edges closer. An addition to the line-up this year is a five-day celebration of the legendary saga of Beowulf. How is it that a story written by an unknown author more than 1,000 years ago still captures the imagination?

The eponymous hero of this 3,182-line poem battles fierce monsters, rips off his enemy's arm, fights a fire-breathing dragon and defends a nation.

It could be the plot of Hollywood's latest blockbuster movie.

But this is the story of Beowulf, a poem once told in timber-framed barns in Anglo-Saxon England, to the raucous noise of the mead-swilling crowd.

Described by historian and broadcaster Michael Wood as "being at the very root of English literature", the author and the exact date of composition remain a mystery.

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Thursday, 26 April 2018

Swedish Archaeologists Uncover Brutal 5th-Century Massacre


Excavations from an Iron Age fort in modern-day Sweden revealed brutalized human remains and other macabre traces of a massacre that stopped a small Scandinavian community in its tracks some 1,500 years ago.

Six years after the archaeological investigations began, the team has published a report of their findings in the journal Antiquity. Although only 6 percent of the site has been unearthed and analyzed, the evidence gathered thus far paints an unprecedently vivid picture of life – and death – in late 5th-century Europe, a turbulent period following the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Located on the island of Ă–land off the coast of southeast Sweden, the Sandby Borg ringfort resembled a large oval-shaped mound of grass and dirt encircled by crumbling stone before the archaeologists arrived. Hoping to preserve the contents of the site from recently spotted treasure hunters, the team slowly but surely revealed that the unassuming ruins belonged to a 5,000-square-meter (54,000-square-foot) village, containing 53 dwellings, enclosed by stone walls that once stood 4-5 meters (13-16 feet) high.

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Swedish archaeologists reveal 5th Century massacre at Sandby borg

Team member Clara Alfsdotter arranges the remains of one victim

Swedish archaeologists have found evidence of a 5th century massacre on the south-eastern island of Oland.

In a paper published in the journal Antiquity, the team writes about the 1,500 year old attack at Sandby borg.

Dozens of corpses have been found in the walled fort, their bodies left to rot where they fell.

All of the victims were killed with "brutal force", team leader Helena Victor said. Some victims were found inside houses, others in the streets.

The archaeologists discovered decapitated bodies, blunt force trauma wounds to victims' heads, and even one person who seemed to have fallen into a fireplace in his final moments.

Even the corpse of a newborn was found among the dead, suggesting nobody was spared, the authors say.

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Monday, 23 April 2018

Skeletons of first Copenhageners discovered under City Hall Square

Secret dig yields startling find (photo: Copenhagen Museum)

Since December, a team of archaeologists from the Museum of Copenhagen have secretly been excavating 20 skeletons discovered under City Hall Square.

The skeletons belong to men, women and children who are believed to have lived around 1,000 years ago, and which archaeologists believe were the first Copenhageners.

“It’s amazing. The graves with the skeletons in good condition are lying just a metre under the asphalt on the busiest square in Denmark,” Jane Jark Jensen, an archaeologist and curator with Copenhagen Museum, told Politiken newspaper.

The archaeologists believe that there are two additional layers of skeletons underneath the layer they are currently excavating.

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Archaeologists may have found Copenhagen’s oldest church

The City Hall Square excavation site has yielded some interesting results 
(photo: Museum of Copenhagen)

When it emerged in February that a team of archaeologists had been secretly excavating 20 skeletons under City Hall Square, it was believed they belonged to the first Copenhageners who lived some 1,000 years ago.

Now, the archaeologists have discovered the remains of a foundation that they think could stem from the first church in the Danish capital – a find that would help confirm that the Danish capital was an established city earlier than believed.

“If it is a church, it would further prove that Copenhagen was an established city at the start of the Middle Ages,” Lars Ewald Jensen, the archaeological head of the Museum of Copenhagen, told Videnskab.dk.

“You can have a burial site without an established city, because there needs to be more elements present before one can call it a city. But then again, you can’t have a city without having a church.”

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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Archaeologists find silver treasure on German Baltic island

The April 13, 2018 photo shows medieval Saxonian, Ottoman, Danish and Byzantine coins after a medieval silver treasure had been found near Schaprode on the northern German island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea. (Stefan Sauer/dpa via AP) (Associated Press)

BERLIN — Hundreds of 1,000-year-old silver coins, rings, pearls and bracelets linked to the era of Danish King Harald Gormsson have been found on the eastern German island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea.

A single silver coin was first found in January by two amateur archaeologists, one of them a 13-year-old boy, in a field near the village of Schaprode. The state archaeology office then became involved and the entire treasure was uncovered by experts over the weekend, the Mecklenburg-West Pomerania state archaeology office said Monday.

“It’s the biggest trove of such coins in the southeastern Baltic region,” the statement said.

The office said the two amateur archeologists were asked to keep quiet about their discovery to give professionals time to plan the dig and were then invited to participate in the recovery.

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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Uncovering the Galloway Viking Hoard, layer by layer

A bird brooch from the Galloway Hoard. ®National Museums Scotland

Hold on to your Viking helmet; you’re about to dig, layer by layer, into one of the most extraordinary Viking hoards ever found on the British Isles – the Galloway Hoard – with Dr Martin Goldberg, Senior Curator at National Museums Scotland

The team of metal detectorists had been working this field in Galloway for some time, but what they eventually found was way beyond their expectations.

The top layer contained eleven ingots and eleven silver arm-rings that had been flattened into bullion. They would have been made from the type of ingots they’re buried with. There’s a nice variety of decoration, with lots of punched lines and hatches. This type of arm-ring is normally found in hoards in Ireland and there are some from North Wales and from Lancashire – all around the Irish Sea, but we don’t have a lot of this particular type in Scotland. This hoard completes the circle around the Irish Sea.

They’re called a Hiberno-Scandinavian type of arm-ring and obviously the Scandinavian is the new element added to the cultural mix at the time, but they’re given that Hiberno- prefix because they’re normally found in Ireland. For me it is always the hyphen between these cultural labels where the interesting things are happening.

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